You’ve probably already heard the story of Elizabeth Taff, a 24 year old employee for the Subway sandwich chain who was fired when she left work after being taken to the hospital for a, very contagious, stomach virus. Everyone outside of the industry went “OMG that’s horrible!” and “Why did they let her touch food like that?” Well guess what…
Working while horribly ill is the industry standard
Let’s step back away from the fact that this woman was violently ill and still managed to work at least half a day. And from the fact that she probably infected dozens more people with a norovirus…that thing that shuts down cruise ships. Everyone is pretending to be surprised by what the manager said to her. That she just needed to change her shirt and keep going.
This isn’t new in these low wage, front line, jobs. Not being able to properly take care of ourselves because we’re too poor to do so is just how we roll. We don’t have any other choice.
I was once told to come in anyway when I had viral meningitis. Forget that meningitis means that I can’t even lift my head, let alone stand for my shift. Part of my job included handling food items, cleaning food and drink machines, and stocking food.
I have worked countless shifts, at stores that sell groceries, while sick with various viruses, colds, the flu, and even pneumonia. We all do it.
I stayed for half of my shift for Advance Auto Parts with a rupture in my lower intestines…I had to wait until someone could come in an cover my shift. I ended up hospitalized for that.
I know three different cashiers, in three different locations, where they handle food, who are fighting MRSA infections.
I’ve touched your food like this. We all have.
Sure, most employees at places like Subway have to wear gloves when they touch your food. But what about when they clean the machines, sweep and mop the floors, pick trash up out of the parking lot, clean the lobby? Yes, we wash our hands. But let’s be real here, do you honestly think that part time hours for less than $8 an hour is going to make us really be all that aware of doing it according to safety standards?
But what about grocery stores? Convenience stores? Produce stockers? We totally wash our hands when we come out of the bathroom….then we touch boob and sock money as soon as we get back to the register. Tasty!
And on top of that:
We handle your food while covered in shit.
To save the company more money, most low wage, front line, employees do everything that needs doing in the store. Meaning that the same person making your food, cleaning food making machines, or ringing up your food, are also the ones who clean the bathrooms.
Sure, there are a few places who will wait until the end of the person’s shift to have them do so. But if someone decides to use their own feces as an artistic medium on our bathroom walls, we’re not going to wait until someone’s shift ends to clean it up. We can’t. Not only that, but if poop can get on your toothbrush just by leaving it near the sink, what’s getting on our clothes as we clean, scrub, and flush, the toilets in those bathrooms?
Now let’s make you even sicker…Lack of money means a lack in hygiene. We have to buy the cheapest of everything, and use only those things that are super cheap.
What this means for the customer is that, even though we might have waited until the end of the shift to clean the bathrooms, we probably can’t wash our clothes until payday when we can go to the laundromat. We only own one or two pairs of work pants so they always get re-worn before they are washed. Meaning that same uniform we wore to mop up someone else’s piss and shit yesterday, we are wearing while we make your food today.
It doesn’t matter that we had gloves on, because our clothes are covered with particles of fecal matter anyway.
Oh, and when we do finally wash our clothes, we did it with the cheapest detergent, using the smallest amount we can. If we’re at the laundromat, we might have used hot or warm water, but probably not. More likely we went straight for one of those double or triple loader washers where we shoved everything we could fit into it to try to save quarters. Of course, this means that our clothes are “clean” only in the most academic sense.
If we have a washer at home, we used cold water since it means spending less money to heat the water. Since most of us grew up shoving all of our clothes into one washer, we overload our home washers too. Hell we have to pay for the power and water to run them anyway, so we save where we can. Meaning that even though we put our clothes into a washing machine, actually getting our clothes clean is another story.
And you have no idea how many of us just end up soaking our clothes in the bathtub and stomping on them for a few minutes because we can’t afford the laundromat.
A lot of us just throw their work clothes on the floor when we get home…the job isn’t worth not throwing them on the floor…and the next day, we just pick them up off the floor and put them back on to go handle your food.
Now how about our personal hygiene? What’s the cheapest, crappiest, least effective soap on the market? We’re probably using it. Meaning that even our bodies are getting clean only in the most academic sense too.
This might sound bad, but it can still get even worse…
It’s not long before we just stop caring
Are you surprised? We make shitty wages and work shitty hours. We deal with customers who berate, belittle, abuse, harass, and occasionally assault or sexually assault us. In a society that is constantly telling us we are failures for making your food for you. All for less that $8 an hour. Part time. We miss out on everything in our lives because we’re probably going to have to drop everything in the middle of the day and go work our four hours.
Our hours are all over the place with no real set schedule. And next week’s schedule will be completely different too. Maybe you’ll have three or four days off…but you’ll probably get called in anyway because someone had to call out. And it’s even worse if your store is open 24/7. That’s when you get those schedules where you get off at 10-11 at night, and have to come in at 6-7 the next morning. We can’t plan anything because we get our days off in single day spurts here and there. We have to request it weeks in advance if we want the glory of having two days off in a row…but we probably won’t get it anyway. We live in a constant state of being ready to bolt at a moment’s notice. This makes you so worn out that you just don’t give a shit any more.
Everyone runs right to “Then get a second job” every time we complain that all we can find is part time work. But how do we find a second job when 1) no one will hire you unless you can work when they tell you, as soon as they tell you 2) you can’t fake it because the schedules never come out on time so one or the other job is going to suffer…then you’ll lose one of them. So why bother?
Even worse is getting the “Why don’t you just find another job” fantasy thrown up at us. Like anyone is going to hire a dirty, smelly, nutcase to do anything except handle your food for you. You get told to work somewhere else if you don’t like it. Well, I don’t like it. So I quit. Then I’m told I’m being lazy for not working. My LinkedIn profile is essentially a statement against the industry as a whole because of these facts.
And for all this fun, we have to buy our own work clothes. We get the price of uniform shirts taken out of our pay; and we have to buy new pants and shoes. You are a single working mom who can only get a part time schedule? Too bad! You have to buy shoes (+/- $20) and work pants (+/- $20) or you don’t get to keep working.
Let’s say something happened to make you lose your previous cushy part time position. Maybe your wages couldn’t afford a baby sitter so you got arrested at work for letting your kid go to the park. Or maybe you started throwing up while making the sandwiches and were fired for it. But, after a few weeks, you’ve found another job. Another soul-sucking, part time, low wage, front line, job.
But to keep this one you have to buy the proper uniform clothes. Most companies give you one whole pay period to get what you need; how generous. The company that just graciously hired you wants black pants and black shoes…even though your last job wanted brown pants and brown shoes…so now, instead of being able to catch up your rent, pay your water bill, or buy toothpaste, you have to buy clothes that you can’t actually afford in the first place.
Can’t make that work out of a $100 paycheck? Tough shit! Get it or you can’t work here. We don’t care that your kid needs cold medicine instead, we need you in black pants. We’re doing you a favor by allowing you to flip our burgers!
You might get to bring home $200 every two weeks….if you’re lucky. A more common paycheck is more like $150-$180 every two weeks.
That’s a soul-crushingly low amount for something that ends up taking all of your time.
Right now, everyone is being all indignant and outraged over Elizabeth Taff and Debra Harrell, and all the others of us who make the news.
But why weren’t you outraged before this?
Why weren’t you outraged the first time you saw your cashier ring up your produce when they have a runny nose?
I’m going to bet that part of the reason is that you figure that they deserve to be treated like shit since they work a low wage job. Like not being paid enough to live on is somehow our fault for taking the job…even though it’s often the only job available anyway.
Of course, if we don’t take the shitty part time low wage job, we’re just freeloaders who don’t deserve any basic humanity or dignity. Never mind the fact that in some places these are the only jobs even available for anyone to work at.
My father in law is visiting from Pikeville Kentucky this week. He told us that Pikeville is thrilled with itself because they are bringing in a bunch of new stores like Marshall’s and (of course) Hobby Lobby. They think these jobs are going to fix their tanking economy. Hobby Lobby is even making a big deal about the fact that full time workers start at $15 an hour.
The thing everyone is missing about this Hobby Lobby deal is that most of their front line employees aren’t full time; they’re part time. Which starts at $10. Only management is full time. This isn’t just Hobby Lobby; this is an industry standard.
The bulk of Marshall’s employees, for example, get less than 20 hours a week. And small handful of “managers” make full time. And being a manager isn’t half as useful as they make it seem.
Retail assistant managers make less than $9 an hour. For that privilege you will be on call 24/7. You use your own car for company business, without any reimbursement whatsoever (but you’ll lose the position if you don’t have a working vehicle). You never have a set schedule (you’ll be working somewhere between the hours of 6am-12am every day (longer if your store doesn’t close). You’ll be expected to work every shift that someone else doesn’t show up for ($7.25 an hour at ten hours a week doesn’t breed much loyalty). You’ll pay as much as $150 a week for after school care (out of a roughly $200 a week paycheck; more for full time day care). You have to provide most of your uniform yourself (they’ll give you a shirt…that will come out of your check). You’re only guaranteed up to 30 hours a week, and you have to sign a contract saying that you won’t get another job while you work for them.
I’ve repeatedly tired to explain that these practices are super common in these industries.
Taff got lucky because there were people outside of her job who were willing to offer her some help when they saw her in distress; but most often, that doesn’t happen.
No one was around to be indignant when I worked a shift standing in my own piss becuase I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom when I asked.
No one was indignant when I was installing 30-40 pound truck batteries while my intestines were ripped up.
No one was around to be indignant when I was getting groped by customers; and then being written up for “flirting” after I reported it.
I was told that people waiting by my car to harass me were my own fault for being too friendly….did I mention that being friendly is part of my job.
I know people in these kinds of low wage, front line, jobs who have worked while fighting diarrhea, food poisoning, stomach viruses, and even MRSA infections.
I had viral meningitis and was told to come in and handle food anyway….I didn’t, I didn’t feel like risking killing anyone.
We’re dying, and we’re risking killing you, all for someone else’s bottom line.
But hey, that’s our own fault right?